David Bohnett Speeches

Founders Award Presentation to James Toy

Let's start off with a few highlights from Jim Toy's resume to set the stage tonight as we recognize Jim's remarkable achievements; Phi Beta Kappa, Blood Bank Clerk, Volunteer Service Award HIV/AIDS Resource Center, Co-Author Recommendations on the Commission on Homosexuality, Organist, Choirmaster, Conscientious Objector Status Approved, US Government, and Medal of Honor, French National Conservatory.

Jim Toy is all these things; educator, facilitator, trainer, advocate, consultant, speaker, writer, therapist, friend, and co-founder, in 1971, of the University of Michigan Lesbian and Gay Male Program Office, now called The Spectrum Center, the first such office of its kind in the country. We’re here to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Spectrum Center and pay tribute to a man who is a pillar of the lesbian and gay movement and lives an exquisitely rich yet profoundly simple life.

As a victim of racial harassment growing up in Denison, Ohio, Jim developed both a sensitivity and stubbornness that would form the foundation of his compassionate career. Born of a Chinese father and Scots-Irish mother, trained in his early years in French, violin, and musicology, Jim over time became aware that he was called to a life of social service, working together with the disadvantaged, the underserved, the stigmatized and the oppressed, and advocating for their rights. This vocation was perhaps foretold by the selfless lives of his parents, Ruth and James Toy and his Baptist-missionary grandparents, Alice and Samuel Hamblen.

A double-major in French and music at Denison University enabled Jim to gain a Fulbright travel grant to France, where he was an English teacher in French public schools. As an indication of his life to follow, Jim earned a Medal of Honor in violin from the French National Conservatory, and supported French high-school students in their sundry protests. Jim’s appreciation of music has led to his humanistic approach to activism and social change, and Jim’s violin teacher taught him a favorite quote by Colette, “Music is love in search of a word.”

Jim came to Detroit in 1957 to take the position of Director of Music at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church, the first Detroit parish to integrate itself racially, and the site of the first Vietnam War draft resistance center in Michigan.

In late 1969 Jim noticed an announcement of a “gay meeting” in the parish calendar. He attended the meeting, the first open “gay” meeting in Michigan, thus marking his coming out to himself. Jim subsequently became the first person to come out publicly in Michigan, at an anti-war rally in Kennedy Square, Detroit in April 1970. With that proclamation Jim rang the bell of pride and self-acceptance that today vibrates stronger than ever across America.

In Jim's work as a therapist, counselor, and educator, he has sought to share the burden of those to whom he has been called to minister. In so doing he has attempted to resonate to the fundamental tone of their lives, the refrain of their life song, their basis for being. Jim faced the reality of his own stigmatization to let himself resonate to his own pain – all part of the process of accepting and affirming his sexual orientation. Jim has taught us that until we know and accept ourselves we cannot fully reach out and help our neighbors.

It's impossible to overestimate the impact Jim Toy has had in the pursuit of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender equality. We can think of Jim's influence as a series of ever widening concentric circles with Jim at the center and an infinite number of circles radiating out from that point representing all the lives affected by Jim's compassion and sense of social justice. Everyone here tonight is a part of that energy.

Jim talks often of a sense of gratitude, gratitude for his faith, his love of music, his sense of humanity, an appreciation of the University, and a sense of thankfulness for all those who have worked and volunteered at The Spectrum Center. Jim says about himself and the various components that make us a whole person, “If you pluck any of the threads, my whole fabric moves inevitably, and so it is, I believe, with us all.”

My life and career as an activist is directly inspired by my working for Jim Toy at the Lesbian and Gay Male Program Office while I was an MBA student here at the University in 1978 through 1980. When I returned to live and love and work in Los Angeles after Ann Arbor, my goal was to live a life of helping others achieve their full potential, putting into practice the lessons I learned from Jim. I thought that if I could make a fraction of the impact Jim had made that I would be a successful activist, and that remains my mantra to this day.

In my recent conversations with Jim, his only request was that we each speak from the heart and share the stories of our lives, and how the University and the Spectrum Center helped shape who we’ve become. The most meaningful tribute we can pay to Jim is to live our life in full and open acceptance of who we are, and set an example for others that a life of love and compassion can truly change the world in concentric circles through eternity.

Thank you, Jim Toy, for helping teach us how to climb freedom's ladder.

We love you very much.

And so, on the 40th anniversary of the Human Sexuality Office, now the Spectrum Center, on behalf of the alumni and leadership of the University of Michigan, and your friends all over the world, we present the Founder's Award to Jim Toy.